How to Start Consuming Seafood Sustainably

What is sustainable seafood? This author answers that question here, and why it's important for our planet.

“Hey everyone! Want to meet up at Bamboo Sushi around 7 tonight? We’re celebrating my promotion!”

“I’m taking my guy to get oysters tonight for his birthday — he loves shellfish.”

“I CANNOT wait to get poké bowls when we finally travel to Maui. I’ve heard Eskimo Candy has some that are insanely delicious!”

Do any of these messages sound familiar? Seafood is a huge part of our food industry and culture here in the U.S.

Around the world, three billion people rely on seafood as their primary source of protein (check that — 40 percent of the world’s population relies on fish and other marine protein sources for their livelihood). Apart from the nutritional role that seafood serves in communities around the world, it can also play an important role in local traditions and cultural identities. Holidays, ceremonies, and festivals utilize different types of seafood as focal points of their celebration. 

Although seafood certainly has the important capacity to bring people together, there are numerous problems attached to the over-extraction of our ocean’s resources. Our planet’s population has grown dramatically in the last century, and as our technologies advance and countries grow wealthier, our lifestyles are shifting as well. We are eating more animal proteins now than ever before. 

This can be incredibly problematic, especially from the ocean’s perspective. The ocean’s fish populations have been cut in half since 1970; 90 percent of fish populations are currently being harvested at or above their sustainable limits (not to mention that it’s unclear who is establishing these “sustainable” limits and what research those limits are based on). The UN estimates that by 2048, the world’s fish stocks may very well be commercially extinct.

That’s more than a little alarming.

Can we find balance? Is there a way to enjoy all the rich cultural and nutritional benefits of seafood while taking the necessary steps to minimize our impact? 

There certainly are ways to become a more mindful seafood consumer. It’s a responsibility we all need to bear — we have the incredible luxury of walking into a supermarket or restaurant and purchasing almost anything we want. We must wield this power with mindfulness and respect. 

Here are some resources that we have at our fingertips, created by a number of renowned conservation organizations. 

  1. Use your voice and don’t be afraid to be seen as a “picky eater.” When you’re eating or shopping out, ask, “Do you sell sustainable seafood?” Hopefully, the waiter or seafood manager will be able to answer that. If they can’t, you’ll be initiating meaningful feedback. Businesses want (need) to deliver what their customers want, so start the conversations. It’s hard, sometimes awkward, but shed the mindset that you’re being needy and adopt the mindset that you’re being proactive for the planet. 
  1. Carry around a consumer guide to sustainable seafood for simplicity, or do your research ahead of time. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has created a valuable guide to check the sustainability rating of popular seafood choices for shoppers and diners. They have guides for different regions of the U.S. If you live or travel elsewhere, try a bit of internet research to find a similar program. 
  1. Learn about the issues facing our ocean (and the planet). It can be challenging when a wide majority of the news in this sector is somewhat depressing. Make sure you’re practicing self-care and taking care of your personal needs and mental health; you’ll be in a better place to digest those facts and act on the recommendations from experts. 
  1. Be a local guide. You don’t need to be a top Yelp reviewer, but it is important (if you enjoy dining out) that you know which restaurants in your neck of the woods follow ethical practices and source their food sustainably. This requires a bit of research — a necessary step if you want to find places with organic and local produce and animal products. 
  1. Surround yourself with the right type of inspiration. Whether that looks like following ocean and environmental conservation-focused social media accounts, reading National Geographic magazines or newsletters, organizing local beach clean-ups, or watching ocean documentaries, there’s a plethora of blue-focused media to lift your spirits and inspire activism. 

    Here are some Instagram accounts that can keep this topic top-of-mind:
  • The Greenest Blue: I started this account back in 2018 to share stories of my naturalist life in marine tourism (whale watching, dolphin swimming, wildlife tours, etc.) and also explore the intersection between mental health, environmental justice, and conservation activism.
  • Green Dreamer: I’ve been listening to Kamea’s podcast for several years now and am constantly blown away with the depth and diversity of these conversations. She explores so many different topics having to do with environmental justice, sustainability, and mental wellness. Check it out!
  • Ocean Conservation Research: They have beautiful visuals and share tidbits about the latest insights from the scientific community. You’ll learn something new every day if you follow them!
  1. Challenge yourself to try plant-based eating one or two days a week. I’m not saying you need to become full-on vegan, but there are so many benefits (environmental, physical, emotional) to eating plant-based food a few days a week. Give the knife a break and try dabbling in some of these delicious vegan dinners

Individual action is critical for bettering our planet, but guess what is even more impactful: community action and support. Talk about your ideas, educate yourself, demand change, and get involved with local chapters of ocean conservation organizations. 

We can have a life-saving impact on our amazing Earth’s life-support system (that’s the ocean!), and it starts right on our plate. 

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